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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 30 - Murder


Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010

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 CHAPTER 30

      “Murder”

This sensational news event landed in our yard with enough excitement to satisfy a Hollywood producer.  Lilly was giving a party.  We didn’t “throw” parties in those days.  At least they were not tossed about lightly in our family.  On the contrary, a party called for and received group effort.  I was ten at the time [1886].

          Father was late to supper that evening, not an uncommon experience but, on a party night, more was expected of him.  Mother kept his food in the oven for a time and then decided that the tentacles of the law had again claimed him.  Since there was no telephone, human trust had to be elastic and Mother, wise with experience, snapped back to her social responsibilities and Father was temporarily forgotten.

          I remember his arrival very clearly for it was timed to the precise moment that the ice cream was being rescued from its glacier-like grave and the long-handled spoon was beginning its excavations.  Father was instantly pressed into service but he was excited and even in my childish eyes it was evident that he was not functioning well as a ‘disher-upper.’  He was obviously not in a party frame of mind.

          From my vantage point, selected for both seeing and hearing facilities, snatches of sensational facts struck me and I sensed that something lurid had happened in our town.

“They found her in a unused well, Sade, out by Fulbright’s spring.  You know the place.”

Father said in plain English before Mother’s

“Pide guade, Humphrey,”

clamped a tight censorship on my short wave reception.  The remainder of the news was conveyed to Mother in excited Welsh, punctuated with English words such as ‘mob,’ ‘lynch.’ and Missourian terms not easily translatable.  It came slowly, however, to my avid ears, for Mother was making heroic to get her guests served.  I absorbed the emotional atmosphere of the scene as the milk in the ice-box takes up the flavor of onions and, with an interest not wholly commendable, determined to be on hand when the paper boy arrived at dawn with the details.

Father was excitedly loquacious all evening and occasionally dropped remarks that continued to fan my interest.  For instance, someone had two wives.  That made my eyes bulge.  I knew that the law did not countenance but one and in our house the law was paramount.  We children, too, greatly feared the penalties that followed disobedience to it.

It was not necessary to wait until dawn for the news to break.  Excitement ran too high and before the party was over the gory details were sprayed about by the none-too-particular tongues of callers running in to compare notes.

A bigamous newcomer had murdered his first wife, the mother of his children, cut her into convenient pieces, and disposed of her in an abandoned well on his farm, supposedly that he might dwell in peace and happiness with the second lady of his choice.  Unfortunately the law caught up with him there, the body was re-assembled and the murderer jailed.  All this happened before Father had arrived.

 

2 Pages of the original manuscript missing

 

…folk-song to whose melody the words were adapted.

Mrs. Malloy, the defendant, was, curiously enough, an evangelist.  Probably because of her religious activities there were frequent and bitter outcries against her.  Mob feeling ran high at times and the more vocal of protestors said he ought to be,

“Strung up.”

Father and the sheriff found it difficult to protect her.  Perhaps because of her innocence, she had no fear of a mob and would say, as they sought safe hiding places for her,

“Let them come Humphrey, I have nothing to conceal and I am not afraid to die.”

There was something inspiring in her deep-voiced words and we children were thrilled by her heroic courage.

She must have been about forty-five years old, a sympathetic, motherly widow, always dressed in black.  She had adopted three orphaned children when they were small and the oldest, Cora Lee, was the bigamous wife of the murderer.  Another daughter worked for us while Mrs. Malloy was on trial.

Mrs. Malloy had personal charm and visited with Mary and me when she was out on bond.  Those were the days of autograph albums and I asked her to write in mine.  Here are her words:

“The heavier cross, the heartier prayer:
The bruised herbs most fragrant are;
And David’s song would never have been sung
If grief his heart had never wrung.”

I was very disappointed in her contribution.  I had hoped for a jolly verse such as:

“Remember me from far, far off
Where the wood chucks die of the whooping cough.”

Father saw my crestfallen air as I read it and he took me aside and explained to me that Mrs. Malloy was a ‘bruised herb’. I looked at her.  She was definitely buxom altogether too substantial for an herb, I thought, and a bruised one at that.  Fortunately I was not so literal-minded as to take a sniff at her fragrance though I admit it wouldn’t have been out of character for me under ordinary circumstances, but the circumstances were not ordinary.  With the swift sympathy of childhood I sensed a figurative language and from that moment carried unspoken hopes and prayers that the jury would set Mrs. Malloy free.  I may have even suggested to the Lord that it would be a personal favor to me.  I know that I felt so.

The climax came one day after we had had a deluge of visitors indirectly associated with the case.  Father had come home in the late afternoon to a conference with Mother behind closed doors.  That was an unusual occurrence and he had left immediately after.  Feeling was running high in the town.  Our “hired girl” repeatedly brought us warnings that ‘they’ were going to ‘string’ Father up along with Mrs. Malloy.

After Father left, Mother’s trembling hands betrayed her tension and Lilly demanded a reason.

“Mama, you are shaking; what’s the matter?”

Ordinarily Mother would have tried, at least, to dissemble but she was too scared herself.

“It’s the mob, dear, your Father expects them to come tonight.”

She said.

“Do you mean here to our house?”

Lilly asked, her eyes growing brighter.

“Yes, More than likely they will go first to the jail to force the sheriff to tell where Mrs. Malloy is.  If they fail to find out there, they will probably come here,”

Mother said.

“Then I’m going to stay up with you,”

said Lilly with such finality that Mother was relieved.

“If they do come, what will you do; let them come in and search?”

she inquired of Mother.

“Yes, and if they ask any questions, we are to say that we do not know the prisoner’s whereabouts, or your Father’s or the sheriff’s.  We don’t know anything.  Do you understand?”
Mother was quite worked up.

“Yes, I do,”

said Lilly.

“We can put the girls to bed in the back room and keep watch from the spare room,”

said she, making plans as if entertaining a mob were an everyday occurrence.

“Mama, what about the ‘Light Guards?’  Won’t the sheriff call them out if a mob comes?”

asked Lilly.  (Lilly’s favorite boyfriend was a Light Guard.)

“I’m sure I don’t know; your Father didn’t say,”

said Mother, hurrying down the back stairs to the kitchen, and to preparations for supper.

When the meal finally found its way to the table, Lilly was so quiet that Mary and I did some wondering, but we went to bed in the back room without an inkling of the situation.  Sleep took care of our curiosity.

When the kitchen work was out of the way and the ‘hired girl’ gone home, Mother and Lilly made ready for their ordeal.  They had to have lights out early, Father had said so, and they knew it would be a long vigil.  Mobs in Missouri were said to meet at midnight.  Maynard was away on his run.

Our house was opposite the old cemetery so there were no neighbors across the street.  There were none in the block to the south either, and only three to the north.  It would be a lonely watch.

Whoever had slipped Father the warning was wise and his apprehensions were well founded.  Almost on the dot of midnight the measured tramp of horses’ feet rumbled into hearing and grew to a steady crescendo until the sound became almost unbearable to the two women watching from behind dark windows.

Our street was macadamized while the one a block further east had a brick pavement.  If they were coming to our house they would soon need to turn on the quieter side street.  When it became apparent that they were continuing on the paved road, Mother whispered,

“They must be bound for the Sheriff’s house.”

The sheriff lived several blocks below us on Campbell Street.

“What if they find them there!”

Lilly thought.  The idea was too terrible to entertain even for a moment.  Yet Mrs. Malloy had been hidden there before.  It was a gruesome game of ‘Hide and Seek.’

The first streaks of dawn were visible before the sound of Father’s key in the front door brought relief and news.  The mob, a hundred strong, had gone to the jail only to find the prisoner gone and, lacking the courage to face the Light Guards who had slept in the Armory so as to be on call, disbanded after a brief reconnoiter.

As swiftly as it had arisen, the wave of mob hysteria subsided, but there were long months of postponements and trial before the prisoner was acquitted and sent back to her work to resume a quiet and sane life, if she could.

The world is small and, twenty years later, my kindly father-in-law [David Caleb Cook of David C. Publishing Company in Elgin, Illinois] tried to convince me of the fineness of the murderer who had so mussed up my childhood and who had worked for him at the publishing company for a few months.  By the same token he was equally certain that the gentle woman my father had defended was guilty.  He was so impervious to my recital of evidence that proved her innocence that I suffered a second shock.  By such means, James Harvey Robinson once truly said, ‘we seek to justify our loyalties and personal prejudices through the gentle art of rationalization.’

It is impossible to overstate the importance of that murder and its effect on me.  For probably the first time in my life I saw grown people in undress moments and looked critically at their reactions both as a group and as individuals.  One of the first positive conclusions I came to, as the trial progressed, was that it is well to be able to give a good account of one’s self in this world.  Not that I was expecting to be accused of murder, but neither was Mrs. Malloy.  I had read the evidence given by her in an effort to prove an alibi, and I was aware of the difficulties she had encountered in convincing the jury of her whereabouts at the hour of the murder.  Many people had sworn to her fine character.  It was also essential that you be above reproach and that others believe in your integrity.

Disillusionments were many.  The idea that citizens could be bitter at Father for defending Mrs. Malloy was one.  That they would hang her without a hearing was another.  At one time during the trial, our laundress said to Mother,

“That old Mr. Malloy is as guilty as can be.”

“Do you really think so, Josie?”

Mother asked.

“I don’t think so, I know so,”

the woman continued.

“Then you must go see Mr. Howell at once,”

Mother said.

“You are just the person he is looking for.  You know there are so few who can give him help in the case.”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Howell, I don’t want to get mixed up with no lawyers, I don’t really know nothing,”

the startled gossip replied.

“Then you’d better be more careful what you say,”

admonished Mother

Another disillusionment registered fully by my unconscious mind was the discovery of the ghoulishness of people.  ‘Society’ women Mother knew, even some of the so-called ‘best matrons’ had visited the morgue to view the body of the victim.  Others whom I had admired (without knowing) jealously guarded their collections of curios, pieces of rope with which the murderer was hung.  It was too ghastly to think about, yet long after the crime was forgotten by most people, it remained to influence my estimates of individuals.  I divided the sheep and goats, the temperate on one side, the sadistic on the other and ranged between, those who had temporarily forgotten themselves and the canons of good taste.

Many years after I left Springfield and knew more of city life, I told Mother that if I were accused of having stolen something, cross-examined and sweated, I was sure that after a time, I would admit my guilt.  Mother was horrified.

“You mean that you would admit having committed a crime you knew nothing about?”

she asked.

Yes, because after being told over and over that I was guilty I think I should probably believe it myself.”

After that confession, I think Mother lost confidence in my ability to take care of myself.  I simply wasn’t safe at large.  Actually that early experience was still casting its shadow.

Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father

Chapter 3 - Dartmouth

Chapter 4 - Killolog

Chapter 5 - America

Chapter 6 - Arrival

Chapter 7 - Gracious Living

Chapter 8 - I Am Born

Chapter 9 - My Name

Chapter 10 - Neighbors

Chapter 11 - The Cyclone

Chapter 12 - The Old cemetery

Chapter 13 - Music

Chapter 14 - Religion

Chapter 15 - The Circuit

Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1

Chapter 17 - Pageantry

Chapter 18 - Mommy

Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks

Chapter 20 - Decoration

Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals

Chapter 22 - Episode

Chapter 23 - Barn Life

Chapter 24 - Vanities

Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow

Chapter 26 - New Horizons

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Chapter 28 - An Experimenter

Chapter 29 - Health

Chapter 30 - Murder

Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings

Chapter 32 - Charm

Chapter 33 - Problems

Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.

Chapter 35 - The Wedding

Chapter 36 - At Home

Chapter 37 - Cross Currents

Chapter 38 - A Baby

Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston

Chapter 40 - The Visitor

Chapter 41 - Buffetings

Chapter 42 - Agenda

Chapter 43 - David

Chapter 44 - Exit